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Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Midweek Football Picks 2015 (September 15-17)

Don't you just hate really busy weeks when it feels like time is just running away from you at a rate of knots?

That's how my last couple of weeks have felt as I have been rushing around with a few other aspects of my life which have seemingly made me a little busier than planned. This week is no different with birthday parties taking care of the back end of the week, but before that we have Match Day 1 of the Champions and Europa Leagues which are played from Tuesday through Thursday.

I broke down how I saw the Champions League Group Stage going after the draw was made last month and that can be read here.


You can also read a few thoughts that came out of the weekend football here.


Real Madrid v Shakhtar Donetsk Pick: There are two markets that I have concentrated for this game and both are obviously backing Real Madrid to beat Shakhtar Donetsk fairly comfortably.

I did consider backing a free-scoring Real Madrid to win this game by at least three goals knowing that 8 of their last 12 home games in the Group Stage have seen that number surpassed. Add in the fact that Shakhtar Donetsk have not travelled very well in recent years and been hammered at Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich and backing Real Madrid to win by at least three goals looks appealing.

However, instead I am going to back Real Madrid to keep their fourth clean sheet of the season and record a win with a clean sheet for the third time in a row. Rafa Benitez is known for that side of his tactics and he will want to make sure Real Madrid give nothing for Shakhtar Donetsk to be encouraged by, while the Ukrainian team have failed to score in 5 of their last 8 away games in the Champions League.

It would be stunning if Real Madrid didn't score and they have kept a clean sheet in 5 of their last 8 home games in the Champions League too. Defensively teams like Real Madrid are always liable to create a problem for themselves as they push so far forward and the counter-attack in this one would be a concern as Shakhtar Donetsk do have pace in the forward areas.

Even with that in mind, I fancy Real Madrid to keep another clean sheet and make sure the fans don't have to think about missing out on David De Gea and I'll back that to happen.


Wolfsburg v CSKA Moscow PickYou have to think both Wolfsburg and CSKA Moscow have big ambitions of getting out of a Group that shouldn't really intimidate either, although questions about a lack of experience about the former and poor away results for the latter have to be addressed.

It was no surprise that Wolfsburg were going to have teams sniffing around their best players after a strong season, but keeping the majority of the squad together keeps the belief. They have made a positive start to the Bundesliga, although bridging the gap to Bayern Munich looks unlikely, and Wolfsburg had a confident run in the Europa League last season.

This club also beat CSKA Moscow at home in their first Champions League experience six seasons ago and the Germans have been to confident they can do that again.

They won't want to underestimate CSKA Moscow who have been flying in Russia, although have slipped in their last couple of games. There are goals in the CSKA Moscow side which makes them dangerous, but recent away struggles in the Champions League are hard to ignore.

Wolfsburg can use their run in the Europa League last season to inspire them in this first game and I think they just hold the edge with the game being played at home. I wouldn't be surprised if both teams scored in this one, but Wolfsburg can earn an important three points ahead of the trip to Manchester United on Match Day 2.


PSV Eindhoven v Manchester United PickIf you go back a few years, a game against Dutch opposition in the Champions League would be a difficult task for any team in Europe. However, clubs from this country have certainly found it tough to mix with the top teams these days as they are raided for their talent far earlier than previously and the talent gap becomes very tough to bridge.

One of PSV Eindhoven's big talents will be playing on Tuesday, but Memphis Depay is now in the red colours of Manchester United, while another key piece of the title winning squad of last season, Georginio Wijnaldum, has moved to Newcastle United.

Wijnaldum will also be in the stadium on Tuesday as the match has been described as farewell for him with the player expected to be applauded onto the pitch, but losing those two key players from a side that won their first title in seven years is difficult to take.

Manchester United haven't exactly been setting the world alight with their play, but Louis Van Gaal will know plenty about PSV Eindhoven and I expect him to find the right tactics to earn a positive result. It hasn't always been easy for Manchester United to win games in the Netherlands, but they look to have the superior squad at their disposal even in the absence of Wayne Rooney.

It won't be an easy game for Manchester United as PSV Eindhoven will be confident thanks to some recent strong performances at home. However, they have also lost their last 2 home European games and Manchester United can get off to the perfect start in the Champions League Group by earning the three points here.


Manchester City v Juventus Pick: I mentioned last season that it felt like Juventus had a very small window in which to win the Champions League and they have suffered a terrible hangover from the 3-1 loss to Barcelona in Berlin.

The likes of Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Carlos Tevez were all a huge part of the success Juventus had last season in the Champions League and in recent years in Italy. However, all three have moved on now and the new signings are still trying to find their feet for Juventus who have surprisingly earned just a single point from their first three League games.

The dominance in Italy is unlikely to be over, but Juventus are clearly not the same side of three months ago and they look a vulnerable team in this 'Group of Death' along with Manchester City, Sevilla and Borussia Monchengladbach.

Out of those four sides, Manchester City have clearly made the best start to the new season and they can underline that by beating last year's Finalists Juventus and earn a priceless three points. Recent struggles in the Champions League is not what the owners would have expected after pumping in huge amounts of money and this represents a good chance for Manchester City to win the Group, earn a relatively 'easy' Second Round tie and reach the Quarter Finals for the first time.

It is certainly easier said than done and the absence of Sergio Aguero is a big blow. Good news is that both David Silva and Raheem Sterling are expected to return for the game on Tuesday and their presence means a creative spark and pace to hurt Juventus on the counter-attack.

Aguero is a hard man to replace, but Manchester City have the bit between their teeth at the moment and I like their chances to win this game even at odds on.


Roma v Barcelona PickJuventus produced something of a surprising run to the Champions League Final last season as Italian sides hadn't really shown the quality to mix with the best teams in European football in recent seasons. That kind of showed up in the manner of Roma's two defeats to Bayern Munich in the Group Stage last season while they were also beaten by Manchester City at home and now they face the current European Champions.

It hasn't been the most impressive start by Barcelona to the new season with some up and down performances, but the 1-2 win at Atletico Madrid at the weekend was their best result so far. It has been a pragmatic beginning to the season as Barcelona look to shake off the cobwebs and rediscover the free-flowing style that saw them win it all last season, but that victory at the Vicente Calderon could be a spark for them.

Barcelona have been very strong away from home in the Champions League as they do tend to get the space to play their football, but trips to Italy have been far from easy for them. They have failed to win their last three games in this country, all against AC Milan, and only won 1 of their last 6 in Italy.

However, I expect that to change against a Roma team who were beaten fairly comfortably by both Bayern Munich and Manchester City in the Group Stage last season. As well as Roma have played in domestic games, they don't have that experience in European games and failing to win their last 4 home games in Europe has to be a concern for them. The fact that three of those games have ended in losses of at least a two goal margin in each has to be another worry against a fearsome Barcelona front three.

I do think Barcelona are the more likely winners and their away wins in recent Champions League years tend to come by more than a single goal. Roma have had their problems at home in Europe themselves and I can see Barcelona coming here and leaving with a comfortable win on the night and already make a big step towards the Last 16.


Dinamo Zagreb v Arsenal PickIn a Group that contains Bayern Munich and Olympiacos, Arsenal can't really afford to drop points at Dinamo Zagreb who do look the weakest team in the section. Some positive results in the Premier League looks to have restored confidence in the side and I am expecting a strong performance in the Croatian capital with Arsenal leaving with the three points.

You can't dismiss Dinamo Zagreb without pointing out that any team on a 41 unbeaten run is going to be confident, while they don't lose too many at home either. However, those positive results have come in domestic competition where Dinamo Zagreb hold a significant advantage over their rivals, but that is not the case in the Champions League as this club is one of the 'minnows'.

That has seen Dinamo Zagreb fail to win any of their last 15 Group games and while they have only lost 2 of their last 9 in this competition at home, most of those games have come against teams significantly weaker than Arsenal.

The latter have also found their groove a little bit in recent away games in the Champions League and have won their last 3 games on their travels in this competition at Anderlecht, Galatasaray and Monaco, all clubs considered stronger than Dinamo Zagreb as far as I am concerned.

No games in the Champions League are ever easy because teams generally are very confident from their domestic form, but Arsenal should be too good for Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday. If Arsenal begin to show some clinical finishing in front of goal, they can win this by at least a couple of goals too and earn the three points they will be expecting the other two teams in the Group to earn too.


Olympiacos v Bayern Munich PickAnyone who thinks Arsenal and Bayern Munich are going to waltz through their Champions League Group could be in for a rude awakening over the coming couple of months, especially if Olympiacos can continue producing the results at home in this competition as they have done.

It is a big test for Olympiacos to open the Group at home against Bayern Munich, but they have beaten the likes of Manchester United here and beat both Atletico Madrid and Juventus here last season. They are not to be underestimated and Bayern Munich look incredibly short to win here considering they have lost 3 of their last 4 away games in the Champions League and in spectacular fashion too.

Losses at Manchester City and Barcelona can be forgiven, but Porto beat Bayern Munich 3-1 in the Quarter Finals First Leg last season and I do think Olympiacos are better than Porto. Olympiacos also have a habit of scoring at home and have done that in 12 consecutive games in the Champions League, but have only kept 3 clean sheets in that run.

It is that record that does appeal to me in this game- I think Olympiacos will give Bayern Munich something to think about at the back and their recent home record of winning games in the Champions League will give them confidence they can rattle their more illustrious opponents.

Bayern Munich have an attacking edge to their game which can't be ignored, but defensively they haven't kept a clean sheet away from home in 9 of their last 13 away games in the Champions League. They have failed to do that in both away games played this season in all competitions and Bayern Munich have 1 clean sheet in their last 7 away games in all competitions.

The layers seem to be expecting goals, but they are taking some chance that it is odds against both teams score at least once in this one and I will be backing that outcome from the game.


Valencia v Zenit St Petersburg Pick: Group H looks like one that will be decided by the top three teams in the section and that means home games are vitally important. Valencia know they can't rely upon other team mistakes to progress and winning this first game at home will put them in a strong position in the Group after just one game having beaten a rival for a top two spot in Zenit St Petersburg.

It has been a difficult start for Valencia in Spain, but they have beaten Monaco in the Play Off Round of the Champions League to reach the Group Stage, an impressive result considering the latter reached the Quarter Finals last season. It will be in the Mestalla that Valencia will lay the foundation for Qualifying into the Last 16, although the side do have some injury issues and a lack of experience at this level.

Valencia are unbeaten in their last 6 European games in front of their own supporters and they have won 4 of those games. They are also unbeaten in 16 at home in all competitions and Valencia have won 12 of those games so there will be confidence they can add to Zenit St Petersburg's poor travelling record in Europe.

The Russian Champions have lost their last 4 away games in European football but they have come into this match having rode a 3 game winning run on their travels to a 2-2 draw at CSKA Moscow.

No one should be underestimating Zenit St Petersburg who have sprung a couple of surprise wins in the Group Stage of the Champions League in recent seasons. They have lost 4 of their last 6 away games in the Groups, but Zenit have won the other two games at Porto and Benfica so Valencia should be aware a surprise result can occur, but I think it will be tough for them to get that here.

There are goals in the Valencia team and I think Andre Villas-Boas will be looking to defend deep and keep Zenit St Petersburg from losing this game. Giving Valencia the time to develop their attacks might not be the right way to play the game and I think the Spanish side will find a way to record a narrow win and earn an important three points in the Group.


Ajax v Celtic PickTwo former European Cup winners have seen how far they have dropped off the elite in that competition when beaten by Rapid Vienna and Malmo in the Champions League Qualifiers this season.

That means Ajax and Celtic have had to settle for a run in the Europa League although I am not sure too many will be rushing to back either side to win it. They are both in a difficult Group which includes Fenerbahce and Molde, two more clubs that began this European season in the Champions League and that makes every home game very important if the clubs have real expectations of reaching the Last 32.

I don't think Ajax or Celtic will be intimidated by the other, but I think home field will give Ajax the edge and I expect them to find a way to win the game.

Ajax have played very well at home over the last few months and 3 straight wins off the back of a Rapid Vienna defeat shows the character that the Dutch team have. It can't be ignored that Celtic have a poor away record in European games in recent years too and I do think Ajax will find a narrow victory in this one.


Fenerbahce v Molde PickThere does look to be a difference in talent that Fenerbahce and Molde can put out on the field in this opening game of the Group Stage of the Europa League. Talent isn't always enough if the attitude isn't right, but Fenerbahce have been producing plenty of wins at home and look to be in the right frame of mind to take the game to Molde.

Inconsistent results have prevented Molde from really pushing up the League table in Norway and they might be seen as a surprising participant in the Group Stage after beating Standard Liege. However, the 3-1 loss in Belgium shows that Molde can be put under pressure by the better teams in the Europa League and Fenerbahce look like one of those.

This is a game that Fenerbahce should be spending the majority of their time going forward and creating chances and I think they prove too good for Molde.

Fenerbahce are a team that should score plenty of goals at home and I like them to win this by a couple of goals.


Rapid Vienna v Villarreal PickRapid Vienna and Villarreal look to be the two top teams in this Group of the Europa League and I think they can bring the entertainment for the fans who will be in attendance on Thursday.

Unlike teams in England, Spanish teams love the Europa League and Villarreal may feel they are amongst the favourites out of the teams involved at this Stage of the competition. There are going to be eight teams falling out of the Champions League which can produce some dangers, but Villarreal will look to follow Sevilla in making it a third Spanish winner in a row.

The first match in Vienna will show Villarreal how much of a chance they have of making that happen because Rapid Vienna look and under-rated team. Ajax were stunned in the Champions League and Shakhtar Donetsk barely hung on against them, although Rapid Vienna will want to improve at home if they are to have a deep run in this competition.

Both teams look like they want to attack and both teams have been involved in some high-scoring games in European competition at home/away respectively. Goals might be the order of the day when they meet on Thursday too and looks worth backing at odds against.


Tottenham Hotspur v Qarabag PickMauricio Pochettino might want to study the film of the Celtic and Qarabag game from the Champions League and also of the trouble Qarabag caused for the likes of Inter Milan, Dnipro and Saint-Etienne in the Group Stage of this competition last season.

He will soon know that Tottenham Hotspur can't afford to take this match lightly.

While I do think Tottenham Hotspur will be a little too strong on the day, I would keep a keen eye out for team news as Pochettino will be looking to keep his squad fresh for the Premier League games too. They look short in both the Premier League and Europa League to really reach their goals, but Tottenham Hotspur fans will be expecting the side to give this competition a proper go this time around.

The Last 32 exit to Fiorentina was disappointing, but Spurs should be able to get out this Group as long as they remain focused on the task at hand. They can't afford to drop points against Qarabag with Anderlecht and Monaco making up the numbers and I expect Tottenham Hotspur can respond, even if they have looked a little uncomfortable going forward.

Harry Kane might have been boosted by his return to goalscoring form when with England on international duty and this is a long trip for Qarabag. Spurs have to focus and not take the result for granted and doing that should lead to a victory by two goals at least.

MY PICKS: Real Madrid Win to Nil @ 2.15 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Wolfsburg @ 1.91 Coral (2 Units)
Manchester United @ 2.25 Bet365 (2 Units)
Manchester City @ 1.80 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Barcelona - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Arsenal - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Olympiacos-Bayern Munich Both Teams to Score @ 2.10 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Valencia @ 1.90 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Ajax @ 1.85 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Fenerbahce - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Rapid Vienna-Villarreal Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 William Hill (2 Units)

Tottenham Hotspur - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)

September Update13-10-2, + 9 Units (45.5 Units Staked, + 19.78% Yield)

August Final16-31-1, - 24.34 Units (94 Units Staked, - 25.89% Yield)

Season 2015/1616-31-1, - 24.34 Units (94 Units Staked, - 25.89% Yield)
Season 2014/15159-208-5, - 20.22 Units (647 Units Staked, - 3.13% Yield)
Season 2013/14164-185-3, + 15.84 Units (577 Units Staked, + 2.75% Yield)
Season 2012/13+ 4.42 Units (415 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)

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